Kyoto Railway Museum, Umekoji Koen, Kyoto 京都鉄道博物館
Opened with great fanfare in time for the 2016 Golden Week holidays, the new Kyoto Railway Museum is set to become a must see destination for visitors with an interest in trains and for families with children.
Now the largest railway museum in Japan, it is a much expanded version of the old Umekoji Steam Train Museum with the addition of exhibits from the former Osaka Museum of Modern Transport.
The new Kyoto Railway Museum is located at the west end of Umekoji Park, about a 10 minute walk from the Kyoto Aquarium. After passing through the entrance building where you get your tickets from a vending machine, you walk through the covered Promenade where the first of the total of more than 50 trains are on display, a collection that spans the complete history of Japanese railways from steam up to the Shinkansen.
The oldest engine on display is an 1880 model imported from the USA in 1880 and that used to run in Hokkaido.
There are a couple of British engines dating from the 19th century, and the oldest Japanese produced model is from 1903, but the bulk of the steam locomotives date from the 1930's and 40's.
Diesels and electrics are well represented as are the original Shinkansen, the 0 Series (0系, zero kei) from 1964, and the 500 Series which was the fastest train in the world in 1996.
As well as locomotives there are a full range of carriages and other rolling stock. It is possible to board some of the trains, and one carriage is set aside as a rest space where railway style bento (ekiben lunch boxes) can be eaten.
One of the trains in the promenade also features dining cars now operated as a cafe. The Main Hall is packed and takes some time to explore. Many of the trains have well lit walkways underneath so the working of the undersides can be explored, and scattered throughout are dioramas and models from rail history including a scale model of Stephenson's Rocket.
Kyoto Railway Museum is not all trains though, there is a working railroad crossing and other displays focusing on various engineering aspects like the history of signal systems, how the pantograph works - the devices on the top of electric trains that connect with the overhead cable - as well as some nostalgia like old uniforms and tickets.
There is a lot of interactivity - as well as a full simulator as used by drivers in training, there are many other opportunities to try your hand at many things including operating a big model railway.
Up on the second floor there are great views looking down on the main hall as well as more models, dioramas, etc. as well as a restaurant and a quiet area to chill out and rest.
The third floor gives access to the Sky Terrace, an open air viewing platform overlooking the museum as well as great views of trains entering and leaving Kyoto Station, including the Shinkansen Line, with views of the pagoda at Toji Temple in the distance.
From the Second Floor an exit leads outside to views over what is one of the stars of the museum - the Roundhouse and turntable. From here there are also viewing windows looking down into the maintenance shed where the steam locomotives are maintained and renovated.
The Roundhouse can also be reached by leaving the main building by the entrance on the First Floor and passing through the Twilight Plaza, another roofed area containing more trains including a Twilight Express, the famous sleeper train that until ran until recently between Sapporo on Hokkaido and Osaka.
The Roundhouse, a semi-circular concrete building built in 1914 and listed as an Important Cultural Property, is filled with steam locomotives. While I was there the most popular one, that many people were having their photos taken in front of, was the one that used to carry the Imperial Family.
At times the turntable in front of the Roundhouse is used to move an engine along with full running commentary. Nearby is where you can board a train pulled by a steam locomotive. It's only a short journey lasting 10 minutes, but unless you are lucky enough to book tickets well in advance for trains like the Yamaguchi SL or Hitoyoshi SL, it's a rare opportunity to step back in time.
The train rides coast 300 yen for adults, only 100 yen for kids. The way out of the museum is through the old Nijo Station building, a fine example of late Meiji Period railway architecture, built in 1904 and relocated here.
There are plenty of gifts and souvenirs on sale. The Kyoto Railway Museum is very slick and feels very much like an exposition of Japanese engineering and technology, though with less of the nostalgia I associate with railway museums operated more by enthusiasts like say the Kyushu Railway Museum in Mojiko, but there is enough to see and do to spend more than a couple of enjoyable and fun hours.
Kyoto Railway Museum (Official site in Japanese, Chinese, English & Korean)
Kyoto, Kyoto 600-8835
Tel: 081 75 323 7334
Hours: Open from 10am to 5.30pm
Closed Wednesdays, unless a national holiday, and over the New Year period.
Admission: Adults 1,200
University & High School students 1,000
Junior High School & Elementary School students 500 yen
Children over three years of age 200 yen
Kyoto Railway Museum is about a 20-minute walk from Kyoto Station.
From Kyoto Station, Kyoto city buses 86, 88 103, 104, 110, 205, & 208 or Keihan Bus 2, 14, 15, 26, 26B or 28A all stop at the Umekoji Koen Mae bus stop from where its a short, well signed walk to the museum entrance.